D&G's 20-year romance comes to life on catwalk

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The Independent Online

The designers took a "roll in the hay" for their spring/summer 2006 signature collection, with bales of straw piled high on their catwalk and two live goats bleating in the wings. Models in flouncy white broderie anglais dresses wore fabric poppies at their waists and ears of corn in their hair.

But these were no innocent shepherdesses. In the Dolce & Gabbana pastoral idyll, chantilly lace in blood-red and black also have their place, for clinging, strapless bustier dresses or frilly baby-doll frocks, worn with elevated platform shoes crafted from wicker or printed with poppies.

Nowhere was their romantic mood more apparent than in the closing sequence of enormous crinoline gowns that emerged to the strains of arias from La Bohème. Scattered with tiny handmade rosebuds or swirls of red and white gingham and lace, worn by models with their feet bare, these giant evening gowns demonstrated the expertise of the house, which equalled Parisian haute couture for both workmanship and, presumably, price tag.

Staged in the duo's brand-new show space, a former theatre where Maria Callas once sang, this spectacular presentation was also a celebration of their 20th year in business. Before their first model stepped out onto the catwalk, clips of each of the designers' collections since 1985 were projected on a screen.

An appreciative audience, 1,000-strong, gave the tearful Domenico Dolce, 47, and Stefano Gabbana, 42, a standing ovation. Dolce & Gabbana's endurance is all the more impressive for the fact that it is a private company which has remained independent despite the rise of the international fashion multi-brand conglomerates, such as the Gucci and Prada groups, in the late Nineties. Last week Dolce & Gabbana announced a 15 per cent leap in revenue, to €686.4m (£468m), for the financial year that ended on 31 March.

Was it a sign of Versace's confidence that it chose to stage its catwalk show last night on the trading floor of the Milan Borsa? Over the past two years the company has been working hard to overcome its former financial difficulties, abandoning its costly Paris haute couture shows and streamlining its various diffusion collections.

Donatella Versace's latest offering didn't stray far from her tried-and-tested formula of skin-tight trousers, sheer blouses and an lengthy parade of red-carpet goddess frocks with necklines that plunged to the navel. Despite the familiarity of many of these looks, though, her colour palette for next spring - beige, beige and more beige - fell in line with next season's trend for tone-on-tone dressing.